Dowry in India: Putting The Institution of Marriage at Stake

Posted on August 13, 2010 in Society

By Sampa Kundu:

Dowry is a social evil which is ‘hated’ by most of the ‘educated’ Indians but ‘practiced’ very proudly in their own lives. It shows the crude difference between theory and reality, delivering a speech and living that out, ethics and practicality.

Dowry is over-discussed, but still remains prevalent in our society with all its strength. Dowry is such a nuisance which has been making our daughters a burden to their parents. How can the poor couples living in the poverty-stricken rural India indulge the thought of giving birth to a female child while they themselves are victims of this awful custom of dowry? It is a nightmare for them, having a daughter as they know that they have to accumulate a significant amount of money as dowry to be given during their daughter’s marriage, which would not be possible for them in a normal way. They are so poor that they cannot afford to pay dowry. And, even today, marriage in rural India and to an extent, in urban India also is impossible without dowry and women’s status in the society and family are connected to her marriage. Unfortunately and unreasonably, a woman remains secluded and sometimes cursed by the family members, neighbours and others if she is not married at a ‘proper’ age. To an extent, dowry is responsible for many other social evils like female infanticides, killing of female babies immediately after birth, early marriage, various sorts of domestic violence against women, bride burning and so on and so forth. The statistics presented below will show the incidence of dowry deaths in India.

Table 1
Table 2

It is evident from Table 1 that dowry deaths had been on the rise from 2006 to 2008 at the national level. Table 2 indicates the states where dowry deaths are high amongst others in India. It shows that dowry deaths are increasing in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Orissa and West Bengal also have high rates of dowry deaths. Point to note is that these are only the reported cases; the actual number may differ from it.

The origin of dowry is found in our past. According to Sonia Dalmia and Pareena G. Lawrence (2005), The Hindu Law of Mitakshara encouraged the custom of dowry in ancient India which guaranteed a son’s inheritance to his parents’ property at birth, but the girls were not entitled to the parental possessions. In such a situation, the system of giving daughter a handsome amount of money at an appropriate time, usually at her marriage, was a kind of compensation to the inheritance system. Followed, the daughter did not have any right over her parents’ property. It helped preventing division in the family belongings, particularly the immovable ones like land, house etc. as dowry generally consisted of movable properties.

There were three upper caste practices in India namely Kanyadhana, Varadakshina and Stridhana which also supports dowry. Gifts to virgin bride was called Kanyadhana, whereas voluntary gifts given by the bride’s father to the groom was conceived as varadakshina and voluantary gifts given by the relatives and others to the bride was Stridhana (P. Srinivasan and Gary R. Lee : 2004). In all, these were contributions to the groom and his family from the bride’s side, no matter they were voluntary or non-voluntary.

The modern India could not go far from ancient India in the sense that girls are not treated equal to boys and dowry is considered to be an integral part of marriage even today. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 did a little to eliminate it from our society.

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